Revisiting unfinished business in Langrug, Franschhoek: 110% Green Campaign

14 Oct 2014 - 16:30

Kevin Winter
Environmental and Geographical Science, UCT

The Premier, together with officials and contributors to the Western Cape Province 110% Green Campaign project, visited a number of initiatives in the Berg River catchment on Saturday 27 September. The visit to the informal settlement of Langrug, Franschhoek, the only site directly linked to the Berg River, gave Kevin Winter of UCT’s Urban Water Management research unit a chance to re-visit some unfinished business. The research team last worked in this settlement in 2008 on a Water Research Commission project aimed at understanding the obstacles and challenges of managing greywater runoff in the settlement. The idea was to understand what people could do on the ground to improve the management of the greywater and what kinds of support would be forthcoming from the municipality and other partnerships. The project achieved some results, but sadly made very difference in dealing with a problem that is ubiquitous in most informal settlements. The overriding observation is that the urban poor are unwilling or not interested in dealing with greywater by themselves. That doesn’t mean they are incapable. Greywater in a communal environment, as with all sanitation needs in this situation, is a collective issue and cannot be addressed at scale without a collective response, and not without considerable support. So, could the 110% Green Campaign do anything different?

Since UCT’s UWM unit were last involved in Langrug, some significant changes have occurred. The first is that Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC), an NGO, started working in this settlement in 2010. They have contribted to building leadership and strengthening social processes in the settlement. This has already made a difference. At the time of UWM’s involvement, the researchers were unable to identify a community structure or leaders. The situation today looks very different. One of the key factors that captured the interest of 110% Green Campaign and ultimately the reason for choosing a project at Langrug is an emerging community structure and leadership.

The current project is aimed at reducing contaminated runoff that into the Franschhoek River from surface drainage of Langrug. What was presented on the day is still at a conceptual level. A further tender is required to implement the conceptual ideas.

The walkabout through the settlement showed encouraging signs of progress. It also showed that the UWM research unit were not wrong in what they proposed in 2008, but the implementing agent was woefully absent. During the walkabout the Premier was greeting enthusiastically by onlookers and was also called upon to translate from IsiXhosa to English. The project concept is about understanding the connections between human activity, waste water generation and treatment could be conducted as close to the source of generation as possible. In cases where water continues to flow, it would be channelled away from the houses and treated through a series of treatment trains including a dedicated bio-rememediation process.

In her closing speech at the site, the Premier made two important points. The first is this project shows innovation in bringing different aspects of the water stream into an integrated whole within the settlement. The second is that the project will enable people to change the condition of their living spaces for themselves. The point being that government can no longer be expected to achieve the aspirations that were once touted in the earlier days of our democracy. The UWM research group said much of the same in 2008. Speeches, report writing and rhetoric are not going to make much difference at Langrug which makes this next part of project implementation even more crucial. There is a new beginning at Langrug, and some members of the UWM group are keen to help write the story as it progresses.

See photos of the occasion: